Insider Threats: Best Practices to Counter Them

Anas Baig
Product Manager

Cybersecurity has become a critical strategic aspect for most organizations around the globe. Perhaps rightly so, considering the total damage caused by cyber-attacks in 2022 has already amounted to $6 trillion, this figure is likely to be much higher by the end of the year. According to the report by Cyber Security Ventures, this figure could reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.

More damningly, a cyber-attack happens every 39 seconds, leaving organizations reeling from the monetary and reputational losses such an attack can cause. With each passing year, it is as if there’s an entirely new form of threat or danger that can unravel organizations’ entire cybersecurity protocols.

However, it’s not always the complicated codes, ransomware, and DDoS attacks that organizations are most vulnerable to. Sometimes, the real threat can be much, much closer.

In 2021, a staggering 57% of organizations reported an insider cybersecurity incident. Sometimes a result of negligence or maliciousness in others, insider threats represent a real and perhaps the most immediate cybersecurity threat to any organization.

Understanding the various types of these insider threats can lead an organization to devise an adequate counterstrategy to mitigate such threats properly.

what are the Different Types of Insider Threats?

Insider threats have a number of different types that can damage the security of businesses. Here are three primary types of insider threats an organization may face:

a.    Malicious Insider

A malicious insider is an employee with the proper credentials, knowledge, and access to cause serious damage to your resources. The malicious insider, also known as a turncloak is arguably the most immediate insider threat within your organization. Their unique profile makes them a perilous threat to all your data resources and other sensitive information across your infrastructure.

As to why someone may become a malicious insider, the reasons can range from corporate espionage to a simply disgruntled employee looking to cause damage to the organization. Since such an insider is almost impossible to identify, it can be challenging to set protocols or practices to thwart their damage.

b.    Unintentional Insider

Your organization may have taken the utmost care to insulate its most sensitive data from the primary data infrastructure or have the strictest access protocols in place. Still, an employee may choose to ignore it. Or they may simply not be completely aware of their responsibilities per these protocols. Or they may have forgotten to follow these protocols on a single occasion. Or they may not have installed the latest security patch upgrade. For many, this can be the hardest to counter since the threat is not intentional and is only borne out of carelessness or negligence.

Any of these can lead to disastrous results since a potential hacker may exploit any of these lapses to “piggyback” on their credentials through the secure entrance points you may have set across your network.

Employees are human, after all. And to err is human. However, erring in this instance can leave organizations in disarray with fines worth millions of dollars for gross incompetence at the organization.

c.    A Mole

Arguably the most problematic and devastating insider threat your organization is likely to face is a mole. A mole within the tech world refers to someone technically not an employee or associated with your organization in any way but has still found a way to infiltrate your internal network.

What sets the mole apart from a malicious insider is that, unlike the former, the mole does not need physical or any pre-existing access to your network or sensitive information to cause damage.

Using a number of different tools or techniques, a hacker may gain access to an existing employee’s credentials or exploit an internal bug within your organizational security protocols.

How To Counter Insider Threats

Much has been said and written about how organizations may find insider threats to be the most challenging cybersecurity threat to deal with. This is because the threats are more subjective and humanistic in nature. While completely eradicating the possibility of insider threats may prove too tall an order, minimizing the risks they pose to an organization is definitely possible.

There are several steps an organization can take to ensure their vulnerability to any insider threats is reduced drastically. Some of these steps include:

a.    Proper Training

This may seem a bit retrograde, but in this instance, focusing on the basics and, more importantly, carrying out the basics effectively could be the best way to lay a proper foundation of a strategy against insider threats.

Of course, as the hackers change and evolve their methods, your training should reflect the countermeasures and best practices employees must practice averting their attacks.

This includes anti-phishing training and regular workshops on adequately securing their footprint online via cybersecurity tools such as antivirus, VPN or proxy like IPRoyal, Kaspersky or any other tool. Similarly, a proper communication mechanism must be established that allows employees to report any risky behavior from their colleagues if they feel the employee may have become a malicious threat.

b.    Better IT Security and HR Collaboration

Internal cooperation can go a long way in offsetting some of the most immediate dangers posed by insider threats. While the internal IT security team and HR are not traditionally expected to collaborate proactively, doing so is necessary to mitigate insider threats.

Far too often, the IT team may complain of individuals not being given adequate training related to handling the data they have access to or employees being disgruntled owing to salary or promotion issues. These issues are also humanistic, but as mentioned above, these same humanistic issues are the fundamental cause of internal threats to an organization.

HR and IT Security must collaborate to ensure that employees and their behavior are adequately tracked and monitored to prevent any incidents.

c.    Threat Hunting Team

Most organizations already offer bug hunting teams to internally deal with any bugs within their product and offer bug bounties to those that can highlight such bugs externally.

Organizations can use a similar strategy to have dedicated threat hunting teams that take a far more proactive approach to prevent insider threats. These include regularly testing employees by sending them phishing emails and seeing how they react or contacting them as an outsider to see how they respond to offers of corporate espionage.

d.    Leverage Access Intelligence

As mentioned repeatedly, the cybersecurity threats an organization faces have evolved and continue to evolve even today. Insider threats are no different. However, that shouldn’t mean that organizations do not have equally resilient ways to counter such threats.

Access intelligence is a modern and unsophisticated way to deal with most insider threats effectively and efficiently. It enables organizations to get a real-time catalog of all the sensitive data. Similarly, via access governance methodology, organizations can map all users to data accessed and provide insight into which users are accessing sensitive data.

Anas Baig

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